On the Town, By Marshall Berman

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The Independent Culture

Berman's cultural history of New York's Times Square is a personal view of a public space. He once egged his father into blowing smoke rings like the famous advert for Camel cigarettes.

When his father died at 48, the sign "became gall and wormwood to me... it was really an ad for American imperialism." Berman's previous book was Adventures in Marxism, but this work is as lively as Times Square itself.

After acting as backdrop for Guys & Dolls and On the Town, this rackety corner reached sleazy nadir in the Seventies, with peepshow adverts that reduced women to "a poor, bare, forked animal".

Ironically, Berman's most dismaying experience came after the recent clean-up. A security guard told him he could not stand in front of the Reuters building. "A British news service... was acting like the many despotic regimes it covers".